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The Corporate Stockholm Syndrome

Updated on May 5, 2015

The Stockholm syndrome is a particular psychological state developed by some people who are kidnapping victims. The syndrome develops from the victim's attempts to identify with her captor or gain the sympathy of the kidnapper. At the end of an extended interaction the victims tends to defend and even to identify with their captors.

Once in a while a graduate student questions the teacher, usually those applying disciplines on the 4 Ps of business management (Planning, Process, People and Projects), with the following argument: "What is being taught is beautiful in theory, but does not apply in day to day work." Usually this interpellation happens in a quite peremptory manner and with a critical tone to the teachings that do not depict the sad reality of some companies in the market. Interestingly, this same professional claims about his superiors in the company for not acting in a planned way; by modifying all the time their tasks, objectives and targets; for not recognizing the good performance of their subordinates; for not working horizontally with peers or partners. This contradictory attitude seems like a Corporate Stockholm Syndrome.

One of the academy's functions is to research, build and field test methods for improving all activities on the planet involving humans. In particular, with regard to the four Ps of management increased efficiency in the activities of an organization with the improvement in the results of the company (effectiveness), through solutions that are able to go beyond the obvious and already worn formulas as the increase hours worked, mass layoffs for later hiring lower-cost staff, should be extremely welcome, especially by those suffering the effect of these little innovative methodologies, and seeking postgraduate courses of business schools to qualify a management succession. However, a kind of Corporate Stockholm Syndrome seems to blur the view of some of these professional students.

Julia Layton, Editor-in-chief of Howstuffworks site, in his article on what causes Stockholm syndrome, reports that "In order that the Stockholm syndrome can occur in any situation, at least three traits must be present: A ratio of severe imbalance of power in which the kidnapper dictates what the prisoner can and can not do; the threat of death or injury to the prisoner by the captor; and self-preservation of part of the prisoner. " Now if these three conditions are assessed in the light of a dehumanized business environment, it is possible that, in cases of less resilient people, these three factors are present: A power relationship based on coercion, a constant threat of job loss that is the means of sustenance of the family, and an employee of self-preservation. In the same article, Julia describes the process of domination of the prisoner's will during the kidnapping, in four steps: "1) In a traumatic and extremely stressful event, a person finds themselves trapped by a man with the threat of death if disobedient; 2) ... Understand what could trigger acts of violence by the captor, to avoid this kind of attitude, becomes a second survival strategy. Thus, the person learns to know the captor; 3) A simple act of kindness from the part of the captor, which can be limited simply to the fact of still having not killed the prisoner, positions the captor as saviour of the prisoner; 4) The captor slowly begins to look less threatening - more a survival tool and protection than harm. ". Keeping the due proportions, the kidnapper exchanged roles for a coercive manager and the abducted to an employee rather resilient, and changed the threat of death to a threat of unemployment, one can begin to understand why the attitude of someone who pays a high value on one business school to seek new ways to develop their work, and reacts on an impugnatory form when the suggested methods differ from their professional reality. The only way to apply, yet in part, this type of reaction is showing cases of successful companies already using the methodology taught.

In conclusion, it is necessary that the person looking for a way to grow professionally, whatever it may be (books, texts, schools, a mentor, a consulting), be prepared to listen, to embrace the changes and innovations that will be proposed selecting which ones make the most sense compared to its behavioral model, his personality. Jesus of Nazareth, used to say: "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." You need to prepare your ears for an active listening without jumping to emotional reactions.


LAYTON, Julia. Stockholm Syndrome. In: HowStuffWorks. Available at


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